With the new UK farm policy schemes on the horizon, there’s a huge opportunity to create a better business case for farming in a way which addresses climate change, enhances biodiversity and improves public health. However, governments all over the world are under severe pressure to justify where public money is spent, not least due to the debts which have built up as a result of the pandemic.

This makes it even more important that we measure the impact of farming and the delivery of so called ‘public goods’. If we don’t, how will farmers know where they’re starting from and which direction they need to move in? And how will we continue to make the case that this support is a good use of taxpayers hard earned money? You can guarantee that it wouldn’t take long for the Treasury to find another home for the funds.

This is one of the key reasons why we have been suggesting to Defra and the devolved nations that farmers should undertake an outcome based whole farm sustainability assessment as part of the new Environmental Land Management or ‘ELM’ scheme. But instead of this being yet another audit (and we all know farmers have quite enough of those) this assessment should be based on harmonised metrics. By working closely with our partners, including the certification schemes, we plan to integrate this harmonised metric framework (the Global Farm Metric) within new and existing schemes. This would mean that the relevant information needs to be collected by farmers just once, rather than multiple times.

As such, this ELMs trial report details the research carried out by the Sustainable Food Trust in collaboration with the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester to develop a framework and self-assessment protocol to measure on-farm sustainability and gain a holistic view of management practices on farms. It was piloted on 27 farms and estates across England representing a range of farming systems and enterprises. The research revealed that farmers and land managers were in support of the broad sustainability categories to be integrated into the Global Farm Metric (GFM) and found them to be useful and easy to collect. Based on the strong support from farmers and landowners, and the feedback from the main certification schemes operating in England, the rationale for an annual self-assessment to capture the impact of the farm system as a whole was developed and has provided the evidence base for the GFM.

The report also presents the rationale for integrating the self-assessment into the Government’s ELM scheme going forward. We’re currently in the final stages of submitting a proposal to Defra to build on this report and run a further ELM phase 3 trial of the GFM in collaboration with FWAG South West and others. More to come on this soon!

The UK provides a valuable case study. As the framework is tested and trialled in new farming systems and new farming landscapes globally, and in different national policy contexts, it will strengthen its accuracy and make it more robust as a sustainability assessment tool. Its value as a global framework and self-assessment tool is undeniable for international discussions and action in the fight on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Click here to read the full report.

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